We Cannot Simply Return, We Cannot Go Back

by Anne C. McGuire

It has been almost two years now, and our craving for a return to normal is greater, and yet it makes me weary. I realized recently that we will never return to what we called “normal.” Too much has happened.

Earlier this year, I had major surgery, a knee replacement. Now I have a scar, physical therapy, and the hope of a more flexible and pain-free joint. That scar is a reminder, though, that the use of my leg and knee will never be quite the same as it was in my youth. Even when the pain is gone and the flexibility is easy, it has come at a cost. The scar is there to remind me.


We all have scars – scars from childhood scrapes. Scars from some bumbling about that occurred at a moment we would like to forget. But the scar is there to remind us, and others, that we are not always graceful. Scars are also reminders of both suffering and healing. In so many ways, a scar triggers a memory of both the suffering and the healing. Our recovery from the pandemic will produce such scars.


As we slowly return to communal worship, we have already noticed gaps in our assembly. Visible gaps where there used to be a couple, and now there is only one half of that beloved couple. Gaps – scars – reminding us of pandemic funerals with only a handful present to grieve together. We are still waiting for families with small children to attend in person, for those young unvaccinated are missed – their wiggling, and over-singing favorite songs, and familial hugs in the midst of prayer. Visible scars we cannot and should not ignore.

We have begun singing more, but masks impede full participation. The sounds of the assembly remain scarred. Youth who had been our altar servers have missed that opportunity for 18 months, and will require some re-training. When? We still do not know. Ushers no longer walk the aisles to assist or to pass a collection basket. Scars on our memory of liturgical ministries for all ages.

We will return to familiar postures and gestures and songs and ministries. And it may be similar. But it will not be the same normal for which we have been yearning. We need to examine our scars and determine what our visible and audible and emotional scars have taught us. Perhaps we have lost meaning and identity as the Body of Christ, or as a Eucharistic people called and sent. Maybe our lectionary cycle has become overshadowed by pandemic and politics and natural disasters, instead of nourishing those daily events. Perhaps it is simply that we no longer take anything, whether participation by the assembly, volunteer and well-trained liturgical ministers, well-rehearsed musicians, for granted. Each parish should take some time for that examination so that the scars of the pandemic do not simply show suffering and loss, but healing and renewed eagerness for hospitality, a welcoming community, and full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy.


After the resurrection, Thomas needed to see Jesus’ scars before he would believe. The scars were not proof of resurrection. They were proof that this Jesus, whom they now knew to be God, endured human suffering and death. When Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” it was a proclamation rooted in his years of witness that this One standing before him, with visible, fleshly scars, was indeed his Lord and our God. If we also believe, as did Thomas, then we know that the scars we carry on our bodies, before our eyes, and in our minds and hearts, can produce healing even as we remember the suffering that caused the scar.

May blessings and grace be with us as we slowly move forward to a renewed worship with our communities. Let us return to the basics of our beautiful liturgies, and through the lens of those basics – the purpose of our gathering, the feasts and seasons of the year, and what is meant by full, conscious, and active participation by the faithful – reclaim the grace and beauty inherent in our common worship.


“Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh” (Leonard Cohen). Whether our scars are physical or emotional, personal or communal, ever-present or fading slowly, we must not ignore them. Our pandemic scars will take us all through a healing process, bringing with us a bit of a return as well as a bit of new and exciting wonder.

Anne McGuire is a musician and liturgist, currently serving at St. Pius X parish in Omaha, NE. 






One comment

  1. Thank you, Anne, for this wonderful post. You remind me of the importance of having a trauma-informed perspective on worship (and life).

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